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Cremation, Confusion and Solicitation


Cremation, Confusion and Solicitation

Christopher Brauchli

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
When I cremated Sam McGee

— Robert W. Service, The Cremation of Sam Magee


Fire the directors before anyone else gets burned.


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Burial or cremation. Coke or Pepsi. paper or plastic. Black or white. male or female, young or old, good or bad. Maybe we are stuck.


So true, but almost impossible to achieve as the funeral industry is directly wired to most state legislatures. The number of laws about where you can spread ashes, the use of embalming, requiring coffins for cremation, the specs of a coffin, vaults, etc, are legislative patchwork around death that put ballot laws to shame.

How and why did it become so expensive to die? Clearly we don't want rotting corpses laying around, but folks have been dying long before US legislatures made death a profit center and increased its carbon footprint triple fold. You think insurance companies are running a racket, just wait until you have to bury or cremate a loved one and find that what you want to do, or what they wanted you to do is somehow forbidden, like simply being laid in the ground, covered with a shroud, with a tree as a grave marker.

My plan is to be cremated because I do not want to be embalmed. I like having the ashes of my loved ones with me, too. I know it sounds morbid, but families are now spread all over and it makes visiting grave sites almost impossible. In my home, I keep a space where photos of my mother, father-in-law, and brother-in-law sit. Next to each photo is small urn containing some of their ashes. From time to time, I may spread a bit of ashes, but mostly they remind me of love. I'm the first to admit that it will make a strange inheritance one day, but I believe this practice will become more and more common as people become more and more transient in pursuit of employment, food, and shelter.


The real problem with cremation is that today, we're all full of metals, particularly the mercury in our teeth. Dental amalgam is a large part of the world's burden of mercury. In Sweden, which has been well ahead of the rest of us in banning amalgam fillings, and where the effect on the health of the population has been so dramatic as to lead the country to look into banning all industry that uses mercury, they have experimented with freezing the body to liquid nitrogen temperature, shattering it with ultrasound, removing the metals, and then cremating the remains. Environmentally, this is a far better approach than either burial or direct cremation.


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That was the first thing that sprung into my mind while starting to read this article. But I would find it interesting to know exactly what the carbon footprint amounts to in CO2 emission. Better to feed the cadavers to the worms (as Cookies more or less suggests) and somehow come up with a benign way of seriously reversing the growth of world population before famine, depletion of potable water, and heat do us all in.


How would that keep the metals out of the environment?


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Well, that would do part of it; but what about all the implants? There are metals in there for broken bones. There are batteries and electronics in there for pacemakers, radioactive stents ... By the time of death, we're all toxic dumps. Just the amount of mercury in the body/brain (mg levels) would be enough to consider a large body of water toxic. (OT, but ... I met someone whose father was a funeral director. Apparently the father had said that when he was young, bodies had to be embalmed right away or they'd get to stinking. By the time his son was there to hear the story, he said they could sit for two days and still be fine. God knows what that was from - preservatives from our food??)